By the 10th century, Butuan had established trading relations with the Kingdom of Champa, in what is now southern Vietnam, and Srivijaya empire of Sumatra.
By the 11th century, Butuan was a center of trade and commerce in the Philippines and was the location of the prehispanic Indianized Kingdom of Butuan. Archaeological finds from that era include the nine balanghai called "the Butuan boats," and the finds in Ambangan, Libertad near the old El Rio de Butuan and Masao River.
First mass On March 31, 1521, an Easter Sunday, Magellan ordered a mass to be celebrated which was officiated by Friar Pedro Valderrama, the Andalusion chaplain of the fleet, the only priest then. The other priest, the French Bernard Calmette (Bernardo Calmeta) had been marooned at Patagonia with Juan de Cartagena for being implicated in the mutiny at San Julian. Conducted near the shores of the island, the Holy First Mass marked the birth of Roman Catholicism in the Philippines. Colambu and Siaiu were the first natives of the archipelago, which was not yet named "Philippines" until the expedition of Ruy Lopez de Villalobos in 1543, to attend the mass among other Mazaua inhabitants, together with visitors from Butuan who came with the entourage of Rajah Colambu, king of Butuan
Controversy has been generated with regard to the holding of the first mass—whether it was held in Limasawa, Leyte in Masao, Butuan City, in the hidden isle made up of barangays Pinamanculan and Bancasi inside Butuan, in the latest discovered site in between agusan sur and surigao sur, the little barangay of Barobo, or elsewhere. It is sure, however, that Ferdinand Magellan did not drop anchor by the mouth of Agusan River in 1521 and hold mass to commemorate the event which was held at Mazaua, an island separate from 1521 Butuan which was in the geographical conception of Europeans who wrote about it was a larger entity than what it is now. Antonio Pigafetta who wrote an eyewitness account of Magellan's voyage described in text and in map a Butuan that stretched from today's Surigao up to the top edge of Zamboanga del Norte.
The first municipal election in Butuan took place on March 1902 in accordance with Public Law No. 82 which coincided with the American occupation of the place.
During the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in World War II, Butuan was razed to the ground when the guerrilla forces attacked the enemy garrison during the middle of 1943. In 1945, the Philippine Commonwealth troops in Butuan together with the recognized guerrillas attacked the Japanese forces during the Battle of Agusan. On October 20, 1948, still recovering from the war, the entire municipality was ruined by a fire.
The boom of the logging industry from the 1950s to the middle of 1970s made Butuan the "Timber City of the South" and led to an influx of business and fortune seekers from other provinces. The flourishing logging industry inspired and prompted Congressman Marcos M. Calo to file a bill converting Butuan into a city and on August 2, 1950, Butuan became a city.
Butuan was reclassified from a chartered city to a "highly urbanized city" on February 7, 1995.
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